Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jindal going places, but is he leading?

Part 2 in series: Jindal, What's Up With That?

Louisiana Political Guru John Maginnis sez, in summary:

Posted by John Maginnis, Columnist, @The Times-Picayune February 11, 2009

On the same day Gov. Bobby Jindal attended a fundraiser for himself in Charlotte, N.C., officials at Nucor Corp., based in the same town, made headlines by raising doubts about building a proposed $2 billion steel mill in St. James Parish. Jindal did not contact Nucor officials, and it would not have made much difference if he did, since the company's concerns about the world economy and coming tougher federal environmental standards are above the governor's pay grade.

So it was just a coincidence, though it could have been an embarrassing one for him had the news from Nucor been worse. That comes with the territory -- and it's a big one -- as Jindal continues raising political money and making speeches around the country, befitting his status of rising Republican star.

In past months, he's been to Florida, Texas and Connecticut to graciously accept checks from the GOP elite, as well as from neighbors in southern Mississippi. Arkansas may be a poor state, but Jindal squeezed three money events out of it last weekend, including stops at Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods headquarters.

The more he tells audiences that the Republican Party has lost its way and deserved what it got in the last election, the more he's hailed as a leader for the next, whether as a candidate or not.

Not to suggest he is neglecting the homefront, for during the week he gets around the state a lot. The farther off the beaten path the better, his itinerary of town meetings reads like a Johnny Cash song.

At whistlestops and Chamber of Commerce banquets, he has been laying out his legislative agenda, the centerpiece of which is a crackdown on sex offenders. His proposals will have scant opposition, but he will still talk about them a lot.

In state and out, he keeps his profile high and free of blemish. But there is the nagging sense that something is missing here. Gov. Jindal gets all over the place, except where the real action is. There is a lot going on in Louisiana now, but he seems to go out of his way to avoid anything controversial.

Most people don't mind that we have a governor who is going places. But in these uncertain times, more are asking where, or if, he is leading us.

Fear is running through state government and universities among employees who don't know if they will have jobs when projected budget cuts are made. Hospital administrators and college presidents have been directed to prepare worst- to best-case scenarios, though none of them are good.

What we've not heard is some expression of keeping faith from the governor, an acknowledgment that our state workers are valued and that everything is being done to preserve their jobs so they can continue to serve the public. A few words from the bully pulpit would do much to shore up shaky employee morale.

Last month, education Superintendent Paul Pastorek was heckled by protesters when he asked the state board to take control of 10 schools from two local school boards. Jindal is on record supporting the takeover of failing schools, but he could have reinforced that with a statement of confidence in Pastorek and the board. He also could have encouraged and challenged the half dozen parish boards with schools under state supervision to improve them and thus maintain control.

Jindal also supports LSU's plan for a new teaching hospital in New Orleans, but you wouldn't know it from his silence while preservationists accuse state health-care officials of plotting to destroy a neighborhood alleged to be historic.

Jindal knows how to delegate and he needn't be holding his administrators' hands with every controversy. Yet there are moments when they should know that he has their back, because he says so publicly, even if some other people don't like it.

It doesn't matter how many weekends he spends out of state, or even that he's back at his desk first thing Monday morning. When it comes to leadership, it's not his perfect attendance that we need, but, rather, his presence.


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